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"Didn' git up an' look out?" disappointedly.
"No, I didn't. Why should I get up to look out at a horse? I can see horses any day without getting out of bed in the middle of the night."
"'Twus the White Horse of the Coupee,"--in a weird whisper.--"I heerd him start in Little Sark, and come across Coupee, an' up by Colinette, an' past this house. An' if you'd ha' looked out an' seen him, you'd ha' died."
"Good old White Horse! I'm glad I stopped in bed. Did you see him yourself now?"
"I've rid him! Yes!--an' told him where to go," with a ghoulish nod.
"Quite friendly with ghosts and things, eh?"
"I don' mind 'em. I seen the ole lady up at the big house. Yes, an'
talked to her too."
"Clever boy! Put the evil eye on her?"
"Noh, ee cann't."
"Can't? Why, I thought you were a past master in all little matters of that kind."
"Ee cann't put evil eye on a ghost," with infinite scorn.
"Oh, she's a ghost, is she? And what did you talk about?"
"You coul'n't understan'," grunted Johnnie, to whom his meeting with the White Lady was a treasured memory if a somewhat tender subject.
And Marielihou? Ah, Marielihou was a black mystery. Sometimes she was there, and sometimes she wasn't, and if at such times you asked Johnnie where she was, he would reply mysteriously, "Aw, she's busy."
And busy Marielihou was, always and at all times. If Graeme found her in the hedge with Johnnie, she was busy licking her lips with vicious enjoyment as though she had just finished eating something that had screamed as it died. Or she was licking them snarlishly and surrept.i.tiously, and sharpening her claws, as though just about starting out after something to eat--something which he knew would certainly scream as it died. For Marielihou was a mighty hunter, and her long black body could be seen about the cliffs at any time of night or day, creeping and worming along, then, of a sudden, pointing and stiffening, and flashing on to her prey like the black death she was.
Six full-grown rabbits had Marielihou been known to bring home in a single day, to say nothing of all the others that had gone to the satisfaction of her own inappeasable l.u.s.t for rabbit-flesh and slaughter.
As to the strange tales the neighbours whispered about her, Graeme could make neither head nor tail of them. But when old Tom Hamon put it to him direct, he had to confess that he never had seen old Mother Vautrin and Marielihou together, nor both at the same time.
"B'en!" said old Tom, as if that ended the matter. "An' I tell you, if I had a silver bullet I'd soon try what that Marrlyou's made of."
"And why a silver bullet?" asked Graeme.
"'Cause--Lead bullets an't no good 'gainst the likes o' Marrlyou.
Many's the wan I've sent after her, ay, an' through her, and she none the worse. Guyablle!" and old Tom spat viciously.
"Perhaps you missed her," suggested Graeme, not unreasonably as he thought.
"Missed her!" with immense scorn. "I tell ee bullets goes clean through her, in one side an' out t'other, an' she never a bit the worse. I've foun' 'em myself spatted on rock just where she sat."
"Well, why don't you get a silver bullet and try again?"
"Ah! Teks some getting does silver bullets."
"A shill'n would mek a little wan," and Graeme gave him a shilling to try his luck, because Marielihou's unsportsmanlike behaviour did not commend itself to him.
But it took many shillings to obtain anything definite in the way of results, and Graeme had his own humorous suspicions as to the billets some of them found, and gently chaffed old Tom on the subject whenever they met.
"You wait," said Tom, with mysterious nods.
Graeme's sober intention had been to put Margaret Brandt, and the agonising regrets that clung to every thought of her, strenuously out of his mind. But that he found more possible in the intention than in the accomplishment.
The first shock of loss numbs one's mental susceptibilities, of course, much as a blow on the head affects the nervous system. The bands are off the wheels, the machinery is out of order, and the friction seems reduced. It is when the machine tries to work again that the full effects of the jar are felt.
And so he found it now. As mind and body recovered tone in the whole vitalising atmosphere of the wondrous little isle,--the air, the sea, the sense of remoteness, the placid life of the place, the abounding beauties of cliff and crag and cave,--his heart awoke also to the aching sense of its loss.
All outward things--all save Johnny Vautrin, and Marielihou, and old Tom Hamon, and several others--sang abundantly of the peace and fulness and joy of life, but his heart was still so sore from its bruising that at times these outward beauties seemed only to mock him with their brightness.
In the first shock of his downcasting, wounded pride said, "I will show no sign. I will forget her. I will salve the bruise with work.
Margaret Brandt is not the only woman in the world. In time some other shall take her place;"--and he tried his hardest to believe it.
But body is one thing and mind another. The body you may compel to any mortal thing, but the mind is of a different order, and strongest will cannot whip it to heel at times. Forbid it thought of thing or person and the forbidden is just that which will persist in obtruding itself to the exclusion of all else.
And so, in spite of him, the dull ache in his heart at every thought of Margaret murmured without ceasing, "There is none like her--none!"
And crush and compel it as he might, the truth would out, and out the more the more he tried to crush it.
And so at times, in spite of his surroundings, his spirits dragged in lowest deeps.
Work he could not as yet, for the work of the writer demands absolute concentration and most complete surrender, and all his faculties were centred, in spite of himself, on Margaret Brandt and his own great loss in her.
He rambled all over the island with his dog friends, risked skin and bones in precarious descents into apparently impossible depths, scrambled laboriously among the ragged bastions of the Coupee and Little Sark, explored endless caverns, loitered by day in bosky lanes, and roamed restlessly by night under the brightest stars he had ever seen.
But, wherever he went--down underground in the Boutiques or the Gouliots; or lying on the Eperquerie among the flaming gorse and cloudlike stretches of primroses; or standing on Longue Pointe while the sun sank in unearthly splendours behind Herm and Guernsey; or watching from the windmill the throbbing life-lights all round the wide horizon;--wherever he was, and whatever he was doing, there with him always was the poignant remembrance of Margaret Brandt and his loss in her.
His heart ached so, at thought of the emptiness and desolation of the years that lay before him, that at times his body ached also, and the spirit within him groaned in sympathy.
Life without Margaret! What was it worth?
Though it brought him riches and honours overpa.s.sing his hopes--and he doubted now at times if that were possible, lacking the inspiration of Margaret--what was it worth?
Riches and honours, won at the true sword's point of earnest work, were good and worth the winning. But yet, without Margaret, they were as nothing to him. His whole heart cried aloud for Margaret. Without her all the full rich hues of life faded into dull gray ashes.
With Margaret to strive for, he had felt himself capable of mighty things. Without her--!
And that she should throw herself away on a Charles Pixley!--Charles the smiling, the imperturbable, the fount of irrepressible chatter and everlasting inanities! How could such a one as Charles Pixley possibly satisfy her n.o.bler nature? Out of the question! Impossible! But then it is just possible that he was not exactly in the best state of mind for forming an unbia.s.sed opinion on so large a question as that.